In many disciplines before you can start ‘doing the right thing’ you have to stop ‘doing the wrong thing’. Poker–and particularly Texas Hold’em poker–is a classic example of this. It’s much easier to teach a complete novice than it is a player with some ‘real world’ experience. The reason is that the novice hasn’t had the opportunity to develop bad habits so it’s just a matter out of teaching them how to do the right thing. For a player that has started to play ‘on their own’ it’s usually a case where you have to ‘unlearn’ their bad habits before yo can start teaching them good ones.

Texas Hold’em is a deceptively difficult game to play. It looks like a case where ‘any hand can win’ and while that technically is true from a practical standpoint it’s a very dangerous mentality to possess. The amateur will get his two cards, see the flop and hope for the best. There’s not much nuance to their game and their convinced that it’s ‘mostly luck’. The professional sees things much differently–his brain is a combination of factoring position, pot odds, opponent hands, betting evaluations and countless other components of the game. These are all advanced concepts and it will take the beginning player awhile to learn about them and implement them into his game.


One of the easiest–and most significant–adjustments that a beginner can make to improve his game is to become more disciplined as to which opening hands he plays. In other words, he should be folding more and playing fewer hands. As we noted in the previous paragraph, the novice is convinced that any two cards can win. The expert knows better. The novice will see pros on TV ‘limping in’ with a week hand and taking down a big pot. What he doesn’t realize is that the player most likely did that out of desperation, usually being ‘short stacked’ and preferring to take proactive steps to change his luck before he gets eaten up by increasing blinds.

Here’s the reality–and this is a concept that is easy to remember and use in your own play. Of the hundreds of possible opening card combinations there are less than a half dozen that are considered exceptionally strong. They are A-A, K-K, Q-Q, J-J and A-K suited. Even these hands are tough to play in some situations. For example, if you’re dealt J-J and there are raises or re-raises ahead of you it becomes a tough hand to play. In some circumstances, it’s a mistake to play anything other than A-A or K-K. On the other hand, this list of five hands should always be played if there are no raises in front of you.

Translated–you should be folding 80% more hands than you play. Note that this doesn’t mean that these five hands are the only ones that you should play. In some circumstances–for example, the play is to you and no one else has opened betting–you can play any hand that offers value. This is a more advanced concept that requires an understanding of pot odds. As a novice, you should limit your play to the top 10 or 15 opening hands. Anything else should be folded. A list of the top 15 hands will be found at the end of this article.

The bottom line is that while opening hands are important what happens from there and how you should play them is dependent on the actions of the other players, the flop and many other variables. As you before more experienced, you’ll get better at evaluating all of these variables ‘on the fly’.


AK (suited)
AQ (suited)
AJ (suited)
AK (off suit)
KQ (suited)
A10 (suited)
KJ (suited)
AQ (off suit)
JQ (suited)